A Closer Look at Sugar-Sweetened Drinks – The Bitter Truth

It is no secret that soda and other sweetened beverages contain large amounts of sugar that can lead to tooth decay and cause weight gain. What some might not know is that multiple studies reveal that sugary drinks do more harm than cause cavities or make your clothes fit tighter. Heavy consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages can have a significant, negative impact on overall health. Sugar-sweetened drinks include regular soda, fruit drinks, sports drinks, energy drinks and sugar-sweetened water. Sugary drinks have been linked to obesity, bone fractures and osteoporosis, kidney issues, heart disease and type 2 diabetes. The following information outlines the health complications that have been linked to the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages and provides tips for a healthier lifestyle.

Kids are heavy consumers of sugary drinks, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and they are drinking it at alarmingly high rates. A recent National Health and Nutrition Examination study revealed the following facts on the consumption of sugar drinks by children and teens and the results are anything but sweet:

The consumption of sugar-sweetened drinks in the United States has increased over the last 30 years in both children and adults.
Teenagers and young adults consume more sugar drinks than other age groups.
Males consume more sugar drinks than females. Among boys aged 2-19, 70% consume sugar drinks on a given day.
A full third of teenage boys drink at least three cans of soda a day.

The consumption of sugar drinks, especially among young children and teens is a serious problem in our country. Sugar-sweetened beverages are an increasingly large part of children and teens’ diets. Just one 12-ounce can of soda contains anywhere from 31 to 46 grams of sugar depending on the type of soda. 46 grams of sugar is the equivalent of eleven teaspoons of sugar! The following are some of the serious health consequences linked to the prolonged consumption of sugar-filled drinks:

Lowered Bone Mass Density and Bone Fractures in Children
Osteoporosis, or the loss of bone density, is usually thought of as a geriatric condition. But the disease may have its roots in adolescence as bone mass reaches its peak level. Since your bones reach their peak mass and strength during your 20s, the more bone mineral density (BMD) you build when you are young, the less likely you are to develop osteoporosis later in life. Decreased intake of milk and excessive consumption of sugary carbonated beverages can lower bone marrow density and increase the risk of developing osteoporosis later in life. Animal studies also reveal that phosphorus, a common ingredient in soda, can deplete bones of calcium.

In addition, studies have found that consuming soft drinks is associated with an increased risk of bone fractures in school-age girls. In one of the studies, published in the Journal of Adolescent Health, researchers found that 14-year-old girls who drank the most cola were 3.6 times more likely to have bone fractures than those who drank the least.

Weight Gain
Sugary drinks are the main source of added sugar in the daily diet of children. Consuming these beverages increases the intake of calories – a factor potentially contributing to obesity among youth nationwide. Between 1977 and 2001 Americans’ daily calorie consumption increased by 250-300 calories, nearly half of which (43%) came from sugary drinks alone. Being overweight is now the most common medical condition of childhood. Nearly 1 of every 3 children is at risk of being overweight. Complications of obesity include high cholesterol, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and many other health and social problems.

Erosion of Teeth Enamel and Stomach Lining
Excessive consumption of sugary carbonated beverages increases the risk of dental problems, especially in children. The phosphoric acid in carbonated soda can interfere with calcium absorption and weaken teeth. The acid strips teeth of enamel, leaving them brittle. Once enamel breaks down, bacteria can invade and cause decay. The acids in soda are also known to exacerbate gastroesophageal reflux disease and ulcers. Phosphoric acid from these drinks neutralizes the hydrochloric acid in your stomach and destroys the capacity of the body to absorb essential elements like iron, calcium and magnesium. Damaged stomach function can result in indigestion, bloating and worsening of the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome and several other stomach problems.

Kidney Stones
The high level of phosphoric acid in sodas has been known to change the urine in a way that promotes kidney stone formation and other renal problems.

Heart Disease
The latest research out of Harvard School of Public Health finds evidence of a link between sugary drink consumption and heart disease. The study found that those who drank more than two servings of a sugary beverage each day had a nearly 40% higher risk of heart disease than those who rarely drank sugary beverages. Drinking more than one soft drink a day is associated with an increased risk of developing metabolic syndrome. Metabolic syndrome is a group of symptoms such as elevated blood pressure, elevated blood sugar, elevated triglycerides and low levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) or “good” cholesterol.

How to break your habit and what to drink in place of sugary drinks

The best way to counteract the negative effects of sugary drinks is to eliminate sugar-sweetened beverages from your diet. Water, of course, is the best beverage option. But for some, plain water is just too plain and kicking the habit overnight may be unrealistic. Start by reducing the number of sugary drinks you have per day until you eliminate them completely.

Try drinking some of the following beverages for a tasty alternative:

Add slices of your favorite fruits and vegetables – lemons, oranges, cucumber, mint, or limes to a pitcher of ice-cold water for a refreshing and flavorful drink.
Add a splash of 100% fruit juice to sodium-free seltzer water – mix one part 100% cranberry or pomegranate juice with three parts seltzer.
Add a few slices of lime or lemon to tonic water.
Drink iced herbal teas or green tea – green tea is naturally high in antioxidants. If you like your teas sweetened, add a bit of honey.
Skim milk: a low fat alternative that is high in calcium.

Create the health you deserve by nourishing your body with healthy foods and eliminating sugar-sweetened beverages from your diet. Creating a healthy life is more than just eating and drinking right, however. It is about treating the whole person – mind, body, spirit and energy. Create a healthy and balanced mind and body by utilizing one of the many wellness treatments offered at Fairfield County Integrative Family Medicine and Healing Therapies: yoga, massage, reiki/healing touch therapy, acupuncture, guided imagery, reflexology and manual lymphatic drainage. We believe in giving our patients the opportunity to find healing in any one of our integrative wellness therapies, which are designed to heal and soothe the body, spirit and mind.